Wednesday, February 22, 2012
REMEMBERING: A GREAT RECORD MAN
Richard Wozniak, 1917-2012: ‘Young at Heart’ record store was his life. Though his well-known record store may have closed more than a decade ago, the music stayed with Richard Wozniak to the very end.
Serenaded by recordings of Perry Como, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in his final days in the hospital and hospice care, Wozniak — owner of Young at Heart Records in downtown Duluth for more than 40 years — died Saturday in Duluth. He was 94.
Wozniak and his store crammed with thousands of records were fixtures downtown from 1956 to 1999. The walls of the shop were painted pink and adorned with hearts and music posters. The record bins were decorated with colorful contact paper and musician portraits.
“As you went in, you could barely walk down the rows and rows of records in bins,” said Duluth musician Alan Sparhawk. “You could see the history in there, different layers of all the decades he’d been running the store.”
Business partners Tom Johnson and Tom Unterberger bought Wozniak’s collection — they estimated it at more than 125,000 records — after the shop closed and brought them to their store, the Vinyl Cave in Superior.
Johnson had been a customer at Young at Heart since the 1960s.
“There was always the thrill of the hunt,” Johnson said of going into Young at Heart, which was a draw to record collectors from far and wide. “You never knew what you were going to find.”
Wozniak was born in central Minnesota in 1917, part of a large family. His mother died when he was young, and he was sent to live with an aunt near Two Harbors. After working on the railroad for a time, Wozniak — who also played violin and mandolin — turned his record-collecting hobby into a profession.
He opened his first shop in 1956 in the Lyceum building in downtown Duluth, and named it for “Young at Heart,” a hit song by Sinatra. His business cards said he catered “to the young and young at heart,” because he “noticed those are the kinds of people who are interested in music,” he told the News Tribune in 1981. The store eventually ended up at 22 W. First St.
After the shop closed, Wozniak went to live at Hillside Homes assisted living facility. Though his memory of the store faded, Hillside Homes owner Diane Lindsey said people remembered him. Even in the hospital last week, she said, a nurse recognized Wozniak as the former owner of Young at Heart.
Wozniak never married, but he was close to his extended family, faithfully sending cards to his many nieces and nephews.
“He was a very kind, caring, humble man,” said niece Renee Melby of Onamia, Minn., who counts a Tex Ritter album, “Deck of Cards,” among the favorites she found in her uncle’s store. “There was a lot of thought and care that went into the minute details” of the store.
After the shop closed in 1999, some fixtures were sent to the Minnesota History Center for a museum exhibit on the state’s musical heritage.
“In a way, it was (my) life, you know,” Wozniak told the newspaper in 1999 as he looked around his shuttered store. “You can see the work I put in here. I must have enjoyed it.”